AgrAbility PA out and about in July 2016

One of the best ways to learn more about the services, resources, and educational opportunities available through AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians is to follow us on social media and meet us at local events.

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Upcoming Events

AgrAbility 25th Anniversary Celebration
When: July 12, 2016, 12 – 2 pm
Where: Washington, D.C.

The National AgrAbility Project is celebrating 25 years of helping people in agriculture overcome their disabilities or long-term health conditions so they can continue to work and remain in production agriculture. An anniversary celebration is planned for July 12 in conjunction with the annual conference of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) from July 10-14 in Arlington, Virginia. RESNA and AgrAbility are longtime partners. 

Mercer County Safety Day
When: July 14, 2016, from 9 am – 3 pm
Where: Mercer County 4-H
463 North Perry Highway, Mercer, Pa.

The July 14 Mercer County Farm Safety Day will be held at the Mercer County Extension Office & adjacent 4-H Park.

The 5th Annual FarmFest 2016
When: July 29-30, 2016, 9 am – 10:30 pm
Where: Grange Fairgrounds, Centre Hall, Pa.

FarmFest is a fun, community-building event that fosters knowledge of organic agriculture and sustainable living through educational opportunities, local foods, lively entertainment, and interactive family activities.

Goodness Grows (again) for one family in Bedford County

Fifteen miles south of Bedford, Pa., sits a 100-acre organic fruit and vegetable farm owned by Dawn and Rob Custer called Goodness Grows. The couple bought the farm in 1999, and together they grow organic soybeans for Perdue and organic grains for a whiskey distillery; operate a small goat and sheep dairy and livestock farm; host community supported agriculture for 70 members; and offer organic produce to seven restaurants, a grocery store, and five farmer’s markets.

Together – Dawn and Rob are quite the pair. He’s the agronomist, she’s the horticulturalist. They also have three sons together: Caleb, Silas, and Levi. But a few years ago, a serious incident and health diagnosis nearly changed everything.

It was January 2012. Dawn and her family were working together to cut and gather firewood – a task they had been working at for hours. It was getting dark, and Dawn was carrying wood back and forth from the site. The next thing she knew, a cut Locust tree was coming her direction – falling on top of her – hitting her head.

DSC_2695“It hit me square. It was a really bad head accident,” Dawn recalls. She suffered significant brain swelling and facial injuries, and lost some of her memory and the ability to access information and speech temporarily. For more than a year, Dawn suffered from post-concussion syndrome.

At first, it seemed like owning their own business was a blessing during her recovery. If Dawn wasn’t feeling well enough to work, her husband took care of her tasks around the farm. But as her brain injury healed, her joints and body began hurting. She wasn’t sure what was going on.

That’s when Dawn was delivered a second blow.

A blood test confirmed that Dawn had rheumatoid arthritis. The impact of the diagnosis on her work at the farm would be significant.

“What we do around the farm is hard work, and my husband and I were facing some tough questions about the future of our farm with my limitations. I need to be there to help. I want to be there,” Dawn said.

She started searching online for resources and help. Within a few clicks, she came across AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians (AgrAbility PA) and the state’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). She reached out and not long after that she was undergoing a farm assessment with an AgrAbility PA staff member, and an occupational therapist and farm coordinator with OVR, to uncover the limitations of her day to day work on the farm.

Dawn felt most of the pain in her hips and hands, which is very common with rheumatoid arthritis. She could hardly move her body after a day of pulling weeds or picking produce. Carrying the 50-pound crates of vegetables 1,000 feet from the field to packing shed was no longer possible for her.

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Dawn with the Eco Weeder.

Recommendations were made on some specific pieces of assistive technology that would allow Dawn to perform her usual tasks around the farm. OVR provided funding for Dawn to purchase a Pendragon work cart, sit and scoot garden cart, pull-behind Eco Weeder for their tractor, and a John Deere gator utility vehicle for hauling produce crates.

“I’m able to be as productive as I used to be,” Dawn said. “With the assistance I received from AgrAbility PA and OVR, we no longer ask the question: should we remain in farming? Our farm has a bright future ahead. We had a great year in 2015.”

Dawn is thrilled to be back to daily farm work and life. And she offers a parting message to not only young farmers entering the industry, but also to those who have long been in it.  

“As we encourage young farmers to explore careers in agriculture, it is important for them to take care of their body. Farming is brutal on your body, and we need to get it into people’s minds earlier to exercise safety and good ergonomics. The other side of that is that the average farmer in Pennsylvania is in their 50s, and as we age and remain in farming, programs like AgrAbility PA are critical to the success of the future of farming.”

Learn more about the Custer’s farm, Goodness Grows, at goodnessgrowspa.com.

Assistive Technology Spotlight: Dairy Barn Modifications

June is National Dairy Month!

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National Dairy Month started out as National Milk Month in 1937 as a way to promote drinking milk. It was initially created to stabilize the dairy demand when production was at a surplus, but has now developed into an annual tradition that celebrates the contributions the dairy industry has made to the world.

National Dairy Month is a great way to start the summer with nutrient-rich dairy foods. From calcium to potassium, dairy products like milk contain nine essential nutrients which may help to better manage your weight, reduce your risk for high blood pressure, osteoporosis and certain cancers. Whether its protein to help build and repair the muscle tissue of active bodies or vitamin A to help maintain healthy skin, dairy products are a natural nutrient powerhouse.

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Did you know there are roughly 350 “squirts” in a gallon of milk? Learn more fun facts about dairy farming!


Pennsylvania is known for its many dairy farms and many of the farms AgrAbility visits are indeed dairy farms.
Most often when assessing a dairy farm the modifications are most needed in the milking routine. It can be difficult and challenging to modify this task, but in a tie stall or stanchion barn there are two great options. For individuals with a wide range of disabilities or health conditions, a rail system and automatic takeoffs can make a huge difference!  

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Rail system: this system acts as carrier for the milking units and allows for the use of automatic takeoffs. With this system the farmer does not have to carry or lift the milking units. The units run on the overhead track from the milk house to the stalls where the cows are milked. The units can be easily attached to the milk pipeline and attached to the cow while the weight is still held by the rail. This reduces the wear and tear on the individual’s back and shoulders.

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Automatic takeoffs: with the rail system, automatic takeoffs can be installed. Automatic takeoffs release the milking unit from the udder of the cow when she is done milking. The unit is also pulled up and away from the cow, ready to be moved along the rail to the next cow. This reduces the amount of squatting and bending that is required to check the cow and remove the milking unit. A conservative estimate shows that automatic takeoffs can eliminate 100 times squatting or bending per day. That really adds up over time and can conserve joints.

Farmers often hesitate at the thought of changing the way they have milked their whole life, and the logistics and finances can also cause some stress. However, many AgrAbility clients who modify their milking routine share that they wish they wouldn’t have waited so long before making the change! These modifications are truly some great pieces of assistive technology.

Sign-up for AgrAbility PA’s e-newsletter for monthly farming tips, information about assistive technology, and to read about AgrAbility clients in action! Email agrability@psu.edu